Ben Hornak, a city employee, measures the wheelchair of Mary Richey, vice chairwoman of the Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities, at the Cheyenne Public Safety Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. Council members worked with Hornak and the architect to test out the floor plan for the new Municipal Court building to make sure the bathrooms in the facility currently under construction would be fully accessible. After the floor plan was taped out, the council members tried navigating the space so the architect and Hornak could see potential challenges. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – For some people with disabilities, finding bathrooms to use in public facilities can be a challenge. Even if a bathroom meets Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, the stalls might still be inaccessible if a person uses a high-tech wheelchair or service animal.

To prevent that from happening in the bathroom of the new Municipal Court building being built downtown, some members of the Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities tested the bathroom layout with those working on the project.

“It’s so important for us to be involved, because the general public doesn’t understand what it’s like to have a disability,” said Julie Tucker, a member of the council.

It’s a common assumption that if a building meets ADA guidelines, then it is accessible for people with disabilities. But those guidelines are dated compared to innovations like larger motorized wheelchairs.

“The regulations have been surpassed by the technology,” said Patti Riesland, chairwoman of the mayor’s council.

For that reason, members of the mayor’s council have been touring bathroom layouts at new construction projects in town, including the new airport terminal and the new bathroom of the first floor of the city’s Municipal Building. At each location, the mayor’s council determined that the ADA-accessible stalls needed more space.

At the Municipal Building, the mayor’s council outlined details that people without disabilities might not think about – the bathroom door was too heavy, and the faucets should have paddle handles and should be high enough for a wheelchair to fit underneath.

“The end user needs to have a voice,” Riesland said. “People without disabilities who are making choices and decisions for people with disabilities oftentimes don’t see all of the needs.”

For the new court building bathroom, Mary Richey, vice chairwoman for the mayor’s council, tested the layout in her electric wheelchair, and Michelle Woerner, member of the council and a founder of K9s 4 Mobility, walked through with a service dog. Both tested the spaces after they were taped out on the floor inside the Cheyenne Public Safety Center.

From that process, it was discovered that the ADA-compliant stall needed more room, and staff with project designers Noel Griffith Jr. & Associates were happy to comply. The changes suggested by the mayor’s council have now been worked into the design.

“There are far more challenges that, as designers, we need to address,” said Jamie Winters, an architect with Noel Griffith Jr. & Associates.

Going forward, Winters said they will continue to focus on designing buildings that can be used “universally.” The mayor’s council will also be asking the city’s building department to change its building code to require larger ADA-accessible stalls in all new developments.

“It’s less costly to make improvements on the front end, as opposed to doing it after the fact,” Riesland said.

While the city could make changes to the code in the future, the Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities will continue to try to make a positive impact on accessibility around town.

“The changes we made last week on the plans will affect people for years in the future who need to utilize the Municipal Court building and have access to an accessible bathroom,” Riesland said.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter @MargaretMAustin.

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